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Thursday, August 24, 2023

No Let Up In Sight: Record Oil Revenue Showers State But Where's The Plan? Leading Officials Still Cautious As State Languishes In National Rankings Despite Newfound Treasure 

The new record state surplus numbers are indeed "historic" and "unprecedented as the headlines shouted. But is a historic opportunity to use that money for maximum impact passing us by? With the state continuing to rank at the bottom of the barrel nationally and no politicians of note willing to step up and say how that can be reversed with this ongoing record-setting revenue, it appears so.

Gov. Lujan Grisham has presided over healthy increases in the state buget the last several years of this ongoing oil boom but much of the money went for hefty pay hikes, increases across the board in state agency budgets and taxpayer rebates. She has offered no comprehensive overview of what the money--now headed for $14 billion in annual revenue with a state budget of $9.5 billion--of how the cash can deployed to address our entrenched and challenging problems. In fact, she rarely mentions the state's often pathetic standing.

In reaction to the announcement Wednesday by the Legislative Finance Committee of even more gargantuan surpluses, she came with this:

The robust general fund proves that what we are doing in New Mexico’s economy is working. As we see another record year of projected revenue, we will continue building a solid financial future for our state through meaningful and long-lasting investments, always with an eye on stewardship of public dollars and fiscal responsibility.

Now that we have all the money in the world can't the Fourth Floor come up with something stronger than than nothing burger? 

But the Guv's not alone. The common reaction to the vast treasure coming out the the Permain Basin oil fields again surfaced the long-held fear that leading state officials seem to have over the surplus. They simply can't shed their poverty mentality to take a risk-on attitude and dig deep down and start coming up with something imaginative to improve the quality of life here. 

MORE EXAMPLES

State Senator and Senate Finance Committee Chairman George Munoz:

We need to see past the dollar signs and focus on planning for the future because these high-revenue years won’t last. We still have much work to do for New Mexicans, but we have an opportunity as well to move the state toward less reliance on oil and gas.

We know nothing lasts forever, George. But is that all you got? What about the deep-seated problems of the Native Americans in your district? As for the "reliance on oil and gas, the day that ends the state's bounty ends. It's futile to talk about the end when you are letting the present and future slip from your grasp. 

Farmington GOP Senator Bill Sharer sees it this way:

We don’t want to squander $3.5 billion when we can use it for investments that will allow us to weather economic downtowns. The question is, where do you put the money where it grows? New Mexico certainly has issues it needs to address but the focus should be how to take today’s money and turn it into future money.

There they go again. Caught in the past and scared sh...less. And this from a senator who represents San Juan, one of the few counties in America that has been losing population due to the terrible economy there. 

Said Wayne Probst, the new secretary of the Department of Finance and Administration:

We’re living in unprecedented, historic times in the state of New Mexico.I think we’re in a safe place as a state.

Thanks for stating the obvious, Wayne. But where's the plan? 

And we did pick up the irony of this place being called a "safe place" as the crime scourge, the fentanyl madness and the property crime continues pretty much unabated. Why is that, Mr. Secretary? Because we aren't generating sweeping ideas to become something better? (Bingo!)

The new chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Nathan Small of Las Cruces, must be reading Wayne's notes:

We're in such a different era. We have the opportunity to exit the roller coaster and get onto a steady climb to a broad prosperity for our state.

Uh, Mr. Chairman, based on billions in surplus forecast for the next two budget years and the billions already accumulated in reserve from the past several years of the oil boom, we have the means to begin our best efforts to achieve that "broad prosperity." Please. Don't embody the ghost of John Arthur Smith. Not with these numbers. But do give us your plan. 

ON IT GOES

On it goes. The political class is fine owning the mountainous pile of money but does not want to be associated with any failures of policy and therefore won't put side by the side the state's dismal rankings and those historic funds.

Perhaps it's time for one of those sometimes dreaded Blue Ribbon Commissions. How about a panel of imaginative and deep-thinking citizens convening for a couple of months specifically chartered with assessing the state's bottom of the barrel rankings and offer specific programs and solutions that might--just might--make a dent in them? 

Right now New Mexico is like one of those billion dollar lottery winners. They're shocked, scared and unable to sort out the meaning of it all. 

THE BOTTOM LINES

We blogged recently that it appeared this space was the only one to report MLG's campaign contributions from a major bidder for a state Medicaid contract. It seems we did have some company, if only briefly. Former ABQ Journal reporter Dan Boyd, now residing in South America, but still addicted to La Politica, sends this February article where the contributions are mentioned. . .The folks at NM In Depth remind us that they also have been on the money and politics beat.

(Okay, so we were lazing on the Italian Mediterranean coast for a month this summer and a few things got by us. That's our excuse and w're sticking to it.). . . 

Independent Moises Gonzalez is also running for ABQ City Council District 2. Loretta Naranjo Lopez is running against him and fellow Dem Joaquin Baca, a member of the Rio Grande Conservancy district, for the seat being vacated by Councilor Ike Benton. We omitted Gonzalez's name when writing about the race Tuesday. The election is November 7. 

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